Hobson's choice

From Academic Kids

This article is about the aphorism. There are also a play and several movies titled Hobson's Choice based on it.

In colloquial English, Hobson's choice is an apparently free choice that is no choice at all.

The first written reference to the source of the phrase is in Joseph Addison's paper, The Spectator (14 October, 1712). It also appears in Thomas Ward's poem England's Reformation, written in 1688, but not published until after his death. Ward writes,

Where to elect there is but one, 'tis Hobson's choice -- take that or none.

The phrase originates from Thomas Hobson (1544-1630), who lived in Cambridge, England. Hobson was a stable manager renting out horses to travellers; the site of his stables is now part of St. Catharine's College. After customers began requesting particular horses again and again, Hobson realized certain horses were being overworked. He decided to go in for a rotation system placing the well-rested horses near the stable door, and refused to let out any horse except in its proper turn. He insisted that customers take the horse in the stall closest to the door or take none at all.

Hobson's choice is different from a catch-22 situation, where both (or all) choices available contradict each other.

Henry Ford sold the Ford Model T with the famous Hobson's choice of "Any color so long as it's black"[1] (http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2000/01/31.html). (In reality, the Model T was available in a modest palette of colors, but the rapid production required quick-drying paint, which at the time was available in only one color—black.)


Modern usage

Hobson's Choice is often used not to mean a false illusion of choice, but simply a choice between two undesirable options. The difference between this and the original meaning of Hobson's Choice is subtle, so the confusion is perhaps understandable. (Indeed, if the horse in the stall nearest the door is in poor shape, the traditional usage of Hobson's Choice degenerates into the extended use, since having an unhealthy horse and having no horse at all are both undesireable.)

On occasion, writers wrongly use the term "Hobbesian Choice" instead of "Hobson's Choice", evidently confusing philosopher Thomas Hobbes for Thomas Hobson.

Hobson's choice in politics

Some people say that voting in a two-party system, like that of the United States, is Hobson's choice. They believe that two candidates typically have far more similarities than dissimilarities, and that in fact the two-party system gives the candidates an incentive to be as similar as possible, in order to appeal to as many centrist or "swing" voters as possible.

Hobson's Choice in media

The New American published by the John Birch Society used the term "Hobson's Choice" to describe how the mainstream media outlets pretend to give choices to viewers/readers while in reality (and perhaps in actuality as well) they all only dole out the same propaganda with only minor differences in spin.

Americans have more than one TV channel and more than one newspaper. Yet they all seem to parrot the same Establishment line.
The media mavens kindly present "conservative" and "liberal" solutions to the problems of the day. But often genuine solutions are either not mentioned or viewed as outside the "mainstream".
--The New American, Feb 10, 2003 v19 (both quotes)

Although the editors for The New American uses the term in a way that implies fraud or deceit as an essential element in a Hobson's choice, it is in fact only true that this particular instance of a Hobson's choice could be argued to entail such tricks.

See also


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